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Saturday, July 04, 2015

Cost-Benefit Analysis

The only surprising thing about this story is that AOL is still apparently a going concern. Who knew?

We're going to be seeing more and more stories like this in the years to come, of outsized health care costs being spread around to everyone. This is because the numbers are what they are, politics aside. Five percent of the population accounts for almost half the expenditures, and that's just the start of it. Everything is a hockey stick, as far as tracking proportional usage.

Socializing medicine by definition means that the other ninety-five percent who make up the other half of expenditures are effectively subsidizing those five percent. Meanwhile, the usurious charges and rates have been completely unaffected by the ACA or private insurance plans.

The racket remains intact, and that's the real problem. How does an infant rack up a million-dollar hospital bill? Instead of plugging the book and harping (rightly) on the HIPAA violations, the article practically begs for an itemization of services. Of course, looking at the EOB would also constitute a HIPAA violation. But it would be helpful to all concerned to get a look at how much things cost.

Tim Armstrong may be an overcompensated asshole, and he's almost certainly not taking a hit on his $12m compensation package. No, better to engender resentment among the working dogs by making sure they have a good idea of what's affecting their 401(k) plans. But all that still doesn't mitigate the fact that consumers are getting rooked by the health care industry, that healthy people are being forced to subsidize unhealthy people, that people with coverage are paying ridonkulous costs to cover people who can't pay for their care.

The moral argument is separate from the financial argument; obviously the moral thing to do would be to have -- wait for it -- the single-payer system we were promised before Ted Kennedy died, the Democrats ran a terrible candidate to replace him and lost their supermajority, and Scott Brown fucked everything up. But we got what we got, things cost what they cost, and people who are now having to pay into the kitty are having to adjust their expectations.

There is no solution. Much like being patient with what's left of your political system, hanging your hat on dickless incrementalism and the Lucy's football promise of Real Change, you're going to have to dial down your expectations of just how much socialized medicine will make your life better. Yes, if you need health care but have no coverage and cannot get on a plan through your job, it's great. But the problem has been trying to soft-sell the cold fact to people who do have coverage and don't use it that it's going to come out of their end, instead of making the CEOs and HMOs and the rest of these high-toned assholes share the pain.

(Bearing in mind, of course, that the family in the article had coverage through their employer. That's yet another area where we're getting fucked; I work for the gubmint and I got socked with an additional $200/month taken out of my paycheck for the exact same coverage, that I don't use in the first place. There's my student loan payment.)

In another ten or twenty years, with a little luck and a lot of help, the ACA will be a lot like Social Security is now, almost untouchable by politicians. But its biggest hurdle to overcome, ironically, comes from the fact that you need to convince the people who need it least and are least likely to vote in general -- young people -- to support it. The people who need it and will use it -- old farts and boomers, getting ready to retire and scavenge every fucking dime of Medicare and Social Security they paid in and then some -- are the most likely to vote, and to vote against the ACA, figuring that they already have their fucking ladder, the rest of us can just go find another staircase or something.

It's not a matter of blaming sick people for being or getting sick. Sooner or later, that fate and more awaits us all. It's a matter of who gets stuck paying for it all, and what kind of care they get for their troubles.

The Dogs of Bore

Jesus H. Christ, this is still a thing? I suppose the fact that "competitive eating" never really took off as a true professional sport (in that a significant number of people could make a decent living solely from that) is somewhat reassuring, as is the rather obvious fact that these bozos are doing substantial damage to their gastrointestinal systems.

The dopier pro-wrestling style antics have been played up in the Nathan's competition in recent years, perhaps to overshadow the possibility that there really isn't enough prize money unless you're some sort of weirdo living in mom's basement rent-free. How'd you like to be the one trying to sell your parents on this particular path to greatness?

Here's the thing about sports:  they generally involve people routinely performing feats of athletic prowess that most people cannot do, because of levels of physical conditioning. But anyone can eat several dozen hot dogs in a short amount of time, if they choose to spend weeks or months beforehand "practicing," dunking them in glasses of water to facilitate sliding down the gullet, and drinking enormous amounts of water before and after (risking water intoxication) in order to artificially distend the stomach and intestines. Not exactly the regimen of dieting, lifting weights, running, and learning playbooks undertaken by actual athletes of pretty much every real sport.

Bottom line:  not only is it disgusting and gluttonous, it's a sport in roughly the same way Groundhog Day is a holiday, or Dr. Dre is a licensed medical professional. But considering that the most play this crap gets is on Memorial Day and Independence Day, supposedly two days to at least pretend to celebrate some level of national greatness and significance, it might be more interesting to televise and report the entire proceedings -- especially the aftermath. What's the over/under on how long Stonie and Chestnut and the rest of these maroons spend squeezing out a 15-pound growler on the can later tonight?

Friday, July 03, 2015

When You Assert, You Make an "Ass" Out of "Er" and "T"

Salon continues its long slide to bien pensant clickbait irrelevancy with this extended argument by assertion regarding the supposed "slut shaming" of poor Bristol Palin. The strange thing is, if you mouse over the many hyperlinks, the only one supporting said assertion is, um, Facebook, which is perhaps second only to YouTube for inane comments consisting mostly of jabbering incoherence.

Let me be more clear, so there's no mistaking by some misguided SJW:  Bristol Palin is not, as far as I have ever read, a slut. I have never read even nasty innuendo indicating that she's slept with an inordinate amount of men (or indeed, any other than Levi Johnston and Dakota Meyer).

The problem is actually the opposite -- that aside from being an over-privileged idiot and hypocrite, Palin herself is a slut-shamer by association, making good money by aligning herself with, and "authoring" hortatory rhetoric for organized slut-shamers, people who would legislate control of women's sex and reproductive lives if they had a chance.

Bristol Palin deserves to be (verbally) smacked around just for that transgression, for enabling and profiting from people whose very industry is making women and girls feel bad about their choices. There is no need to imply that she is a slut as well. Maybe she's just a fertile Myrtle, as they used to say -- had sex with two guys, and they both knocked her up. If only there were available means to prevent unwanted pregnancies.

"Hypocrisy is not an excuse for abuse."

Bullshit. Hypocrisy -- especially involving lousy reasoning and backward assumptions in the first place -- is probably the best excuse for abuse. But the fact of the matter is, the article fails to provide a single solid example of said "abuse." I don't think most people give a shit; I certainly don't except insofar as Bristol Palin has been inexplicably given a profitable, highly visible platform in which to propagate her nonsense, nonsense which it turns out she can't even abide by herself.

It's important for self-styled pwoggies and libruls to pay attention to this sort of rear-guarding, especially as Bernie Sanders starts attracting larger crowds and making inroads. Because this is really just Nader-baiting of a different stripe, cloaked in a fog of sloppy thinking and unsubstantiated assertions.

The Continuing Adventures of Fucking Yokels

Maybe there is such a thing as karma. Nah, there isn't. But for a sweet second there, you could almost believe it.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Yeezy's New Clothes

So a funny thing happened on the way to Glastonbury this fine weekend:



It would be a little too fish-in-a-barrel to simply pronounce Kanye West as a talentless twat who needs to stop trying to punch above his meager weight. He has no business being at Glastonbury, any more than he had being at Bonnaroo. And he sure as hell has no business trying to perform Bohemian Rhapsody, a difficult song even for people who can actually sing.

(And I'll even give him credit for the sample from 21st Century Schizoid Man in his song Power. There is no upside for him to do that for money or popularity; I'd wager my salary for the next five years that very few of West's fans have even heard of King Crimson. I think he did it because he thought it was cool. I can respect that, whether or not I like the song.)

But this....Jesus Christ, is he completely deaf? Bad enough that he's simply swaying on an empty stage to a recording of the song, bathed in lights, letting the audience do most of the work. But when he does finally start vocalizing, it's the sort of karaoke croaking you generally hear from random drunks at the airport lounge, despondently hoping some wayward stewardess or bored milf will spot them and impulsively blow them right after their master performance.

I have to wonder what West's fans and followers think about this, no doubt they'll have their excuses and demurrals. He's a genius because he attempted to perform an iconic rock song in front of a couple hundred thousand people, without apparently learning or rehearsing it at all beforehand. Something like that. If anything, it should make them wonder the obvious -- if this is really what he sounds like "live", then just how much sugarcoating and backing tracks are they paying for when they see him?

It's a truism these days that since music is for the most part free, musicians have to perform and sell swag to cover their nut. This applies less to established people (I hesitate to refer to him as an "artist") like West, but it still applies to some degree. He's not some indie group cobbling together their demo with Pro Tools on the drummer's laptop; he probably dumps money into his magna opera, from licensing samples to paying producers to hobbit wax.

Going to a concert as a fan, especially a large stadium or festival, is obviously about more than just the music, it's about the event. But there has historically been at least the implicit agreement that there would be some spontaneity to the music, that you would get something special in return for paying through the nose for tickets and swag and refreshments, and battling traffic and a gigantic mob for a glimpse at your musical wampeter.

But for musicians to provide that truly live experience, they actually have to be able to do something musical, to sing or play an instrument with at least some competence, to improvise, to be spontaneous.

[Side note:  That last link is a terrific example of what I'm talking about, in a good way. I first heard Suit Fugue at least fifteen years ago, have listened to it countless times since, and it still makes the hair on my neck rise. In barely two minutes of running time, Kevin Gilbert took Bach's canon principles of composition and counterpoint, and used them to accurately eviscerate the shithead music industry. It's an outstanding piece of music, and qualitatively superior by itself to West's entire catalog put together. If you've got an hour to spare, check out Gilbert's live performance of Genesis' Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. It's fucking amazing, and captures the magic of what live music used to be about, those fleeting moments that will never happen quite the same way again, but happen anyway because of work, skill, and genuine passion. It's a refreshing contrast to today's canned, pre-recorded, choreographed pseudo-performances, each the same as the last and the next.]

One of the worst things about West is his utter dependence on AutoTune. Here is an instance where you quickly find yourself wishing he'd used it.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Ipse Dixie

It's somewhat heartening to see how quickly The Market Has Spoken on retailing items emblazoned with the 'murkin swastika. If I were of more cynical mind and heart (I know, I know), I'd probably come up with some catchy bullshit slogan about the noble resistance to political correctness and move some "collectible" swag on CafePress or such like. Git 'em now before they take yer guns!

Do rednecks really think anyone buys their bullshit rationalizations about what that flag "means" to them, that it somehow no longer means what it has always meant? Since when do symbols of genocide and brutality and institutionalized cruelty get to magically shuck off their history and start over again? More importantly, why would you want to do that?

The idea that the Traitor Loser flag now just stands for "courage, family, and good times" is just ludicrous. It cannot escape its history so easily, or indeed at all. It is the emblem of the eternally butthurt, of people who take some perverse pride in being descended from people who fought against their own country for the right to own and brutalize other human beings. It is not a point of pride, it is a point of shame.

Slavery and its vile structure is a stain on this nation's soul, one that the Founding Fathers saw and understood, and regrettably did not move to correct quickly enough. But once they finally did move to correct it, the southern states felt more obligated to their disgusting institution than to their country.
They lost, and paid a more than fair price; if anything, in retrospect, the Union clearly didn't finish the job and beat the stupid out of 'em.

Now, while it can no longer stand that public places show open support for this, I really couldn't care less if people choose to fly the rag as individuals. Freedom of speech and all; if people want to tell the world that they're assholes, I encourage them to speak loud and remove all doubt. But by the same token, they should expect their self-serving nonsense to be repudiated by people who have actually watched Selma and 12 Years a Slave, and read the Corner Stone speech, and understand exactly what "states rights" and "heritage" they are referring to.

Ordinarily I root for losers and underdogs, I like rebels and people who tell The Man "fuck you, I won't do what you tell me". But this is just plain pig-headed obstinacy for its own sake. The default excuse for the rapists and killers and vicious oppressors of the good ol' days is that they were people of a different time. They certainly were, and it certainly was a different time, and the best way to ensure that the mores and rationales of that misbegotten era stay in the past is to stop memorializing the schtick and totems of that era. They need to either let go and get rid of the damned rag, or get used to the rest of the world calling them on their bullshit.

Person of Influence

Pro tip for all you folks who might be thinking of making a living telling other people how to live their lives, just because your mommy is famous for being a burbling quitter:  Remember, you can walk away at any time, if you find the kitchen getting too hot for comfort. Just a thought, but maybe you can spend the free time overcoming whatever it is in your life that finds you with three broken engagements and two out-of-wedlock children (by two different men) by the time you're 25 years old.

(Not to mention that the assumption that former fiancé Dakota Meyer is the father of this child may not necessarily be true, which would be really scandalous 'mongst the fambly valyews types. This is what happens when you don't take your whore pills.)

It's bad enough that Bristol Palin makes decent money doing nothing more than being a sanctimonious, hypocritical dunce, but what's unforgivably obnoxious is the "respect our privacy" nonsense. There's no one stopping you from going away, sweet cheeks. Trust me, no one will miss you. Go get a real job, toil away in obscurity with whatever other skill you might possess. No one's stopping you, and no one will check up on your comings and goings at the burger stand. You chose to put yourself in the public eye, no gun was put to anyone's head.

Ah, but that's always the problem in our "reality" teevee addled excuse for a society -- whenever one of these morons steps on their dicks, their first impulse is to exercise their right to privacy, but they still want to keep their public platform, their show, their blog, whatever revenue source they have to monetize their meager talent. They think they should be able to have it both ways, to use said platform to influence behavior and promote their social causes, and then when they're caught being hypocrites (which, you know, tends to undermine whatever value is created by their promotions), they want a pass and privacy. No. It doesn't work that way, unless you want to do the right thing and just go away already.

But that won't happen. The only that terrifies them more than having the easy money spigot turned off is finding out that they could completely disappear and nobody would notice.

Monday, June 22, 2015

The Audacity of Pope

It's interesting to watch liberals and environmentalists make common cause with the pope on the subject of climate change, since chances are they profoundly disagree with him on many other issues -- not the least of which would be the proximal causes of said environmental shift. I guess you take support where you can get it, but this a pretty tough one to get around.

Don't get me wrong, compared to his predecessors, the current pope is relatively (dare I say it?) progressive. He has made overtures to other faiths, gays, even atheists. Credit where it's due and all.

But I don't see how you can logically separate the acknowledgement of an ongoing climate crisis, and the worsening problem of overpopulation. Consumerism is certainly a substantial part of global warming and environmental degradation, but it doesn't account for, to name one egregious example, the mass extinction we're now in the middle of.

Somewhat oddly, the major areas that are and will be experiencing continued population increases are India and Africa, regions which are not necessarily attuned to what the head of the Catholic Church has to say about much of anything. China has some responsibility to bear as well, not just for the sheer scale of their population, but because they are the primary consumers of these endangered species that are being poached. Americans are obese and vulgar, but they're not buying ivory and eating tiger penis soup.

It is sickening to think that within another generation or so, we will almost certainly be without any tigers, rhinos, lions, elephants, lemurs, and many other amazing graceful creatures that used to share the planet with us. But we'll have somewhere between nine and ten billion humans by 2050, many of them scavenging and poaching and pillaging and overbreeding their way through what passes for a life, each putting toxic drops into an ocean of impending catastrophe (I defy you to find a more purple metaphor in the next, say, 24 hours).

His Holiness has very little to say about all that; in fact, he's taken the opposite tack. It's as if he recognizes that we are falling off a cliff, on the verge of a perilous precipice, and yet would rather ignore that whole pesky gravity thing.

This is not a small point. The church is never going to budge from condemning abortion, and one assumes that even the most ardent atheist or pro-choice advocate can at least understand that stance. But a smart -- and truly progressive (ugh) -- pontiff would strike a creative and useful balance by moving the dial on contraception. Again, the parts of the world most in need of that are not Catholic in the first place. But it can't hurt, and you have to start somewhere.

There's a phrase I've oft repeated in this here venue, and I sincerely believe it should be the motto or operational guideline for virtually every governing body of any size or importance:  People (in the collective, aggregate sense) will not change their behavior until they understand that the cost of not changing is greater than the cost of changing. This is as true and axiomatic as noting that the sun will rise in the east tomorrow. The corollary to this is that it usually takes some sort of catalyzing event to get them to realize this; life has to break one off in their asses before the light bulb finally goes on and they see that their current path is unsustainable.

You used to be able to at least count on the basic principle that individuals wanted to leave the world as good or better than they found it, for future generations, that they wouldn't want to leave a toxic shithole for their children and grandchildren. The boomers squashed that long-held precept; those motherfuckers refuse to compromise on a goddamned thing as they dodder off into senescence. They fucked us, and they're entirely cool with it. Very well then, at least own the damage you've wrought. Consider yourselves lucky we don't shut off the payout valve the second you've recouped exactly what you paid in, and then set you out on a fucking ice floe with a crate of Matlock and Murder She Wrote DVDs.

This groaning, overburdened planet cannot take much more of what we're giving it. A deity that wants countless individual souls to be actualized, only to perish early in an impending mass die-off if we continue down this road, is no friend to its believers. Like any politician, a pope has a balance to strike between the intellectual, the spiritual, and the practical. (Yeah, I know.) But time gets shorter, and the practical must start taking precedence.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Lazy Train

When Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush are the voices of reason on your side, maybe it's time to reconsider your basic premises. This is about to be the next entrant in the Tedious Summer Fake Debate sweepstakes, now that the required shark attacks and Trump announcements are already out of the way. At least one half-assed "tradition" will be "scrutinized" and Both Sides Will Be Heard.

The tradition of flying a flag that celebrates systemic racism and plunder will be said to come down to the noble voters of South Carolina, who will get their backs up in righteous indignation, drawl some obvious untruths, and tell everyone to go fuck themselves. Short of a tourism boycott, you're not going to talk these rubes out of their stupid tree. They're fine with lying to themselves and everyone else about the nature of that hateful rag and what it represents.

Ordinarily you'd just say, well, let morons be morons and leave it at that. And perhaps that's where we'll end up. But nine people got slaughtered in a church a few days ago because some deranged dipshit decided that he'd had enough of something. The same mindset that defends that damned flag is precisely the same mindset that composed said dipshit's actions.

Another tradition is that of giving South Carolina -- a state notable for exactly two things:  being the first state to attempt to secede, and having about 1.5% of the US population -- a prominent role in selecting the next president. To the extent that the electoral process for picking imperial custodian even matters, with its perpetual campaign machine and roster of mostly worthless choices, the insistence on giving tiny states where no one lives first choice on legitimizing candidates undermines the validity of that process. Larger, more populous states such as California and New York -- and yes, Texas and Florida as well -- don't have a voice until Iowa and South Carolina and New Hampshire have had their say.

It's bad enough that a depopulated ghost state like Wyoming has exactly the same number of US Senators as California, a state with about 66 times as many people, and at least four cities each with more people than all of Wyoming. It's ridiculous that preliminary choices are entirely ceded to small states that are not representative of anything but themselves.

I've felt increasingly that the post-Westphalian nation-state paradigm is increasingly outmoded, that what worked to preserve order in 1648 has perhaps run its course nearly four centuries later. Maybe the fifty states would work better as a loose confederation of regional entities that regulate trade, and leave each other to their picayune bullshit.

Maybe the taker states, adding nothing of value in the first place and no longer having their nonsense supported by the maker states, would be forced to get honest with themselves, and join the 21st century. Or not. With that sort of setup, what goes on in the backwaters would have as much relevance as news from Pakistan or Gambia.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Carthago Delenda Est

"The past is never dead. It's not even past." -- William Faulkner, Requiem for a Nun
"Y'all are raping our women and taking over our country. This must be done." -- Dylann Storm Roof

There is some sort of twisted irony that bowl-haircutted domestic terrorist Dylann Stormfront Roof, who shot up a church full of Christiansblack people, is about to find out what the racial demographic is in gen-pop. Good luck, shitbird. I don't make jokes about dropping the soap, because this nation's penitentiary system is a nasty disgrace of privatized enslavement and institutionalized sadism. But there are some people whom you just can't muster sympathy for, and this is one of them.

More interesting is how this is yet another of those inane pretend "national discussions" that are supposed to cut 'murka's perceptions about race in sharp relief, yet do anything but in practice. It does provide small respite from the endless jabber about Rachel Dolezal, a woman who clearly has some issues about identity but is essentially a harmless goofball.

I have trouble finding an opinion about a seemingly misguided white person pretending to be black, it's about as pressing an issue as the countless suburban cracker mooks trying to up their puny game. They grow out of it when they either have to get a job, or get tired of people laughing at them instead of with them. Sooner or later Dolezal would have encountered an actual black person who, rather than giving her funny, inquisitive looks, asked her point-blank what the fuck she thought she was pulling. Still and all, as I said, dopey and harmless. But you would have thought by the verbal kerfuffle that it Meant Something.

This is how we pretend to talk to each other about race, primarily because the southern states understand the issue differently, as they have never and perhaps will never get over having their asses sorely kicked in the Woah of Nawthun Aggresshun. So they pretend that their worthless, traitorous rag is a profound statement of "heritage" rather than hate or racism. On that, as Ta-Nehisi Coates wisely points out, we agree -- but it's a heritage of plunder, torture, mayhem, rape, murder, cruelty.

So fuck Huckleberry Closetcase and the horse he rode in on, and the heritage of institutionalized theft and misery he takes such pride in. It's not that much of a wonder that assholes like Roof germinate and take root in the polluted soil of the south, with its monuments and highways and cities dedicated to the people who fought and died for the right to enslave and terrorize other human beings, to treat them literally as pieces of property, to be divided, sold, or discarded at will.

It's the most cowardly, chickenshit thing to pretend that Roof set out to murder Christians, when Roof himself said he set out to murder black people. He made no bones about it. But we live in a society where a bunch of biker gangs can shoot up Waco, kill close to a dozen people, and people just go, "huh, that sucks," but when people in Baltimore riot because they have no other recourse, and burn down a drugstore and torch a few cars -- but kill no one -- it's an endless litany about what "thugs" those people are.

(And, as a parallel side note, the Waco shootout may turn out to be a serious over-reaction by our paramilitarized law enforcement. But the fact is, as the known facts lay immediately after the incident last month, the chatter revolved largely around romanticizing the "outlaw" mentality of the bikers, who are rugged individualists in comparison to the "thug" outlaws in the inner cities. It's as if they're never heard of or read Hunter S. Thompson.)

Already Roof is being characterized as mentally ill, or a drug addict, or both. And perhaps he is. (In which case maybe Roof's father ought to be charged as an accessory, seeing as how he saw fit to give the little prick a fucking .45 handgun for his birthday in April, just weeks after getting busted for drugs and trespassing.) But maybe he really just hates black people, because he's been raised and steeped in a bullshit "culture" that still goes out of its way to find ways to relegate non-whites, to reframe an epic struggle that sundered a nation, whose combatants were abundantly clear about what precisely they were fighting to preserve.

I have completely run out of fucks to give about these people. Fuck them, fuck their stupid two-ply flag, fuck their bullshit rationalizations for systemic theft and brutality, fuck their heritage. There are like ten backwater welfare states that continue to resist common sense. It is time for the rest of the country and the world to stop coddling them. We need to find the graves of everyone from Jefferson Davis to Pitchfork Ben Tillman and Lester Maddox, take a collective dump on them, burn a traitor flag on the shit, and piss out the embers.

A boycott would definitely get through to them, something along the lines of "take your flag down or we stop coming to Myrtle Beach". The games of shitholes like Missuhsippuh refusing to ratify the 13th Amendment need to be done with. Playtime is over.